ATLANTA, GA -- The Los Angeles Sparks (20-2) had to work overtime on Friday to defeat Connecticut and secure its 20th win out of 21 games, tying the 1998 Houston Comets for the league's best start to a season. The Sparks came into Sunday afternoon's game against the Atlanta Dream (12-11) looking to build on their nine-game winning streak.
When it was least expected, the improbable transpired. Atlanta stunned the crowd with their undeniable offensive efforts and defeated the Sparks 91-74.
"I told the team, this could be the game that could be the turnaround for the season. If we can beat them (Sparks), we can beat anybody in this league," McCoughtry said. "I hope that the girls take this and build their confidence so we can move forward, contend in this league and do some damage."
Atlanta started the match up at a loss, playing without starting forward Sancho Lyttle, who is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season after suffering a break in the fifth metatarsal in her foot. Lyttle leads the league in steals.
Despite losing eight of their last 11 games, the Dream started the game off strong, putting up the first four points on the scoreboard in less than two minutes.
The Dream continued their drive, pushing ahead of the Sparks and sinking in the first three-pointer by Bria Holmes. Los Angeles picked up the pace and continued to capitalize on fouls and three-pointers.
Despite six marginal lead changes, Atlanta went into the second quarter up 21-20. They were unstoppable, with their impressive offensive plays and constant application of defensive pressure. The Dream did not trail once, and took a 10-point lead in the second.
Tiffany Hayes led the team with 10 points in the second half; Meighan Simmons helped with back-to-back three-pointers and Elizabeth Williams assisted with some notable layups.
In the first half, the Dream shot 39.5% from the field and 42.9% from beyond the arc. Atlanta surprised the fans and went into the locker room with a three-point lead.
Dream forward Angel McCoughtry, returned to the court in the third quarter from her technical foul in the first and made a steal right off the bat. McCoughtry scored a quick three to get her momentum going; however, the Sparks did not let Atlanta's lead stick. Los Angeles cut its deficit to one point, after Candace Parker's jumper.
McCoughtry capitalized on a three-point play after a driving layup that drew a foul. Layshia Clarendon quickly followed with a beautiful three-pointer, putting Atlanta up by 10 points with just under two minutes left in the third. The Dream ended the third quarter with Bria Holmes' driving layup, which came from Matee Ajavon's perfect pass.
The Sparks earned 17 points at the end of the third and Atlanta surpassed with 26.
Los Angeles tried to play catch up in the final quarter after Atlanta held their biggest lead of the game, 69-57. The last time the Sparks were ahead in the game was with 19 seconds remaining in the first. Los Angeles had good offensive efforts from Nneka Ogwumike and Parker, but the rest of the team struggled, as 10 points appeared to be the teams' magical trailing number.
"I think we'll bounce back. I think we've got great leadership within our team, and we've got really good unity. I don't think there's any question we'll stay high on how we've been playing and come back and get back to that," Sparks head coach Brian Agler said.
Clarendon's last two minutes of play were notable and almost seemed like a farfetched dream. She made a fast break layup, then assisted Hayes and scored on a free throw, putting the Dream up 14 points. Atlanta took advantage of the Sparks' 12 turnovers.
"They (Atlanta) rely a lot on turning you over and then turning those turnovers into transition baskets, and they thrived in that area tonight. We play Atlanta one more time, so we've got to focus on those areas," Agler said.
Key contributors for the Dream were McCoughtry and Clarendon, who both led the team with 17 points. Holmes and Hayes added a combined 29 points to the win.
Despite Los Angeles' loss, Ogwumike did not disappoint, scoring 26 points for the Sparks. Parker also put in work, assisting her with 22.
"This wasn't a blowout, this was an ass kicking tonight," Dream head coach Michael Cooper said. "Keep fighting, work hard, keep working, rebound. We were very fortunate and had to play a perfect game to beat them."
The Sparks will continue their road trip against Indiana on Tuesday, and the Atlanta Dream will travel to Minnesota on Wednesday where they will look to extend their win streak.